Though millions of employees now work remotely from home, jobless claims have soared to a total of 16 million jobs in the last three weeks, with people of color particularly hard hit.
March unemployment was highest for Blacks at 6.7%, 6% for Latinxs and 4% for White Americans, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Meanwhile, essential workers largely can’t work from home. They include not only doctors and other frontline health workers, but also blue-collar workers such as grocery cashiers, delivery workers, bus drivers, mail carriers and warehouse workers.
The situation has a “racial justice paradox,” said New York radio host Brian Lehrer in a recent interview with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: While “Black and Brown people are more likely to lose their jobs in the crisis (and suffer food and housing insecurity),” he said “they’re also more likely to be the ones asked to keep their jobs and have risky contact with other people.”
Ocasio-Cortez said these frontline workers – disproportionately Black and Latinx – are not being treated with the dignity and respect of proper pay and protections, particularly for the risk they assume, demonstrating how “racial and class inequities baked into this crisis.”
While 37% of Asian workers and 29.9% of White workers are able to work remotely, only 19.7% of black workers, and 16.2% of Latinx workers, are able to telework, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In short, they must leave their homes and show up for work during a pandemic.
People of color being overrepresented among both the unemployed and among essential workers is two sides of the same coin, said law professor and CNN contributor Catherine Powell.
Close to one-third of Latinx adults, and a little more than one-quarter of Black adults, earn an income through the gig economy (compared with just above one-fifth of White adults). Data from the Gig Economy Data Hub, a project by the Aspen Institute and Cornell University, shows that contract workers, on-call employees, and agency temps – positions that offer lower pay and less flexibility than more traditional gig-economy workers – are more likely to be blacks and Latinx.
“This data – and the fact that as the coronavirus continues to spread, many essential blue collar workers lack protective gear, hazard pay, and health benefits – helps explain why we are seeing reports that the virus is wreaking havoc in neighborhoods of color,” Powell said.
Then there are domestic workers, mostly women of color who go without the same labor protections that other industries have. Added to this, many are undocumented and don’t qualify for federal assistance, such as paid sick leave.
“On a broader level,” Powell said, “the racial effects of this crisis teach us many lessons about the importance of having a social safety net – including generous paid family and sick leave for all – as well as affordable health care for all.”